Student-athletes need a solid and healthy support structure to ensure they tick all the boxes on both ends. A sentiment echoed by many top athletes, who, as rising stars coupled their academics while pursuing their first professional contract. With the advent of Varsity Sports and USSA tournaments, students have grown far more aspirational, but the stress of juggling sport and academics can weigh heavy on student-athletes.
Maties Hockey star Ongeziwe Mali praises the efforts of the hockey coaches and her teammates for creating a solid and healthy support structure. Mali is currently enrolled in the education faculty studying towards a bachelor’s degree. Prior to studying at Stellenbosch University, Mali studied Occupational Therapy at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia in the United States of America.
Ironically, Harrisonburg – much like Mali’s home city, Gqeberha – is also known as the Friendly City. Born in New Brighton, Gqeberha, the 24-year-old field hockey player grew up in Zwide – the same township as that of World Cup-winning captain, Siya Kolisi – attended Summerwood Primary and matriculated from Pearson High. While she can play both indoor and outdoor hockey, it is outdoor that Mali prefers.
She was the youngest hockey player – at 18 years old – to represent South Africa at the 2018 Commonwealth Games hosted in Australia, also her debut year. Mali has amassed 22 caps for South Africa since then.
She expresses her gratitude towards her parents who have made it possible for her to live out her dream. Having picked up a hockey stick at the tender age of 10 years old, the former Pearson High learner is not new to being the youngest member of provincial and national squads. She was selected for the U19 Eastern Province Cricket team when she was just 15.
Honouring her parents for laying the platform for her, Mali attributes a lot of her tenacity to the inspiration she draws from knowing her parents have done a lot to ensure that she can continue to excel both on and off the field.
“My parents inspire me the most, they have literally broken barriers for me,” a proud Mali told Maties Sport. “They have expanded my sense of thinking which has helped me open a lot of doors to my future. The Commonwealth Games was very new to me and being part of that team meant the world to me.
“I have an impeccable support structure. We are students first and coach Lenise [Marais] understands this and is very supportive when it comes to our academics. Within the hockey team, we highlight the student part of student-athletes.
“The [Education] Faculty helps us students a lot with navigating the pressures and stresses of being a student, and being a student-athlete adds to this pressure. The backing from the faculty for every student is phenomenal, and this does not only extend to the student-athletes in the faculty.
With a closer look at the micro-community that exists within the hockey setup, Mali is excited to be part of a system which she describes as one which is ‘out of this world’. Being grounded and firmly steadfast in her faith and relationship with God, Mali finds and draws inspiration and hope from her faith.
A very modest and humble Mali did not realise how big her debut in 2018 at the young age of 18 was until she returned home from Australia.
“Being the youngest hockey player in that squad meant that I was inspiring people back home. I was proof of something that could be achieved, but I did not realise just how big this was until we returned home. I genuinely did not realise it was that big.
“Hockey is really great, I love it not only because I am part of such a great Maties team or because we have a host of U21 and National players in our team, but it is the support that is such an amazing characteristic of everyone in the team. It is out of this world. Everyone can be called to support each other no matter how long you have been playing or what level you have played at – it truly is an amazing setup to be part of.
“God is at the centre of it all, for me. Prayer, praise, and worship form an integral part of who I am. I love God and am truly blessed to be able to draw on this relationship in every situation I find myself.”
Mali understands the power of having a platform where you can inspire the next generation. The Maties star knows that hard work pays off and her success both on and off the field is a testament to this age-old adage.
“They [the younger generation] look up to us, they see that it can be done, they put in the hard yards, and they see that they can also do it. These young kids have seen someone else do it and it puts a belief in them that they can do it as well. This was me when I looked at those, I drew inspiration from. It can be done with the right mindset. My biggest hope is that I inspire before I expire.”